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Leadership Is Key For Executive Chefs
November 17, 2009
My name is Mark Dayanandan and I am the executive chef of Hilton Austin, in Austin, Texas. This is a statement that I take great personal pride in each time I tell someone. Not only because I am proud of the team we've built here since opening in 2003, but also because of the success we've had hosting wonderful events and conferences, including three Hilton General Manager conferences. Since I was 14 years old it has been my dream to be an executive chef of a major hotel brand, so my pride in being a chef is also very personal as I've achieved my life's goal. Strangely, it was not cooking that first attracted me to the kitchen, although I love to cook and am very passionate about food, but rather the organized chaos of a hotel kitchen that made me want to be a chef. The idea of restaurants, banquets, cafeterias and room service all going on at once and all seeming to go out smoothly is why I love being a chef. I absolutely love this job and could not imagine myself doing anything else.
Early in my career I was fortunate to work with some outstanding executive chefs and cooks within the Hilton family, from the Hilton London to the Hilton New York. Each and every one of those hotels had people who influenced my career and helped me develop some of the values I take seriously today as a hotel chef - teamwork, integrity and ownership. The one that stands out the most, however, is leadership. Leading a team in a multi-faceted environment is a responsibility that should never be taken lightly; I strive daily to positively influence my team and provide encouragement. However, leadership is not limited to my kitchen. I feel it is my job to also be a leader in my community.
Generally, hotel chefs are not as well known as restaurant chefs, but you might be surprised to find that many hotel chefs are known for as much for the value and leadership they bring to the community as for their cooking skills. I have certainly found that important and made it a point to get involved as a Hilton chef in my local community.
Here in Austin, I have been fortunate enough to work with a school for hearing impaired students and its high school culinary program. Each year, we have the culinary program students work with my team on a fundraising dinner called the Diamond Event, a nod to my being named one of Hilton's Diamond Chefs in 2007. This year we will also be working with the children from the Dell Children's Hospital, Cancer Ward. These wonderful kids will help us to decorate the houses for our holiday gingerbread village. One item that in the past has received tremendous support from my colleagues within the company has been the holiday stuffed toy collection. I have asked chefs throughout the brands to send me a stuffed toy or animal that is indicative of their area. Whether it is a teddy bear wearing a Yankees shirt from NY or a stuffed Moose from Canada, we've received an average of 200-300 stuffed toys. We usually display these in the lobby and then deliver them to the children's hospital right before Christmas.
Being an executive chef has afforded me many wonderful experiences and opportunities and being able to give back in some small way is certainly an honor that I cherish.
Mark Dayanandan, Executive Chef, Hilton Austin, is a 17 year Hilton Team Member.
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